For more than 15 years, a large part of the television viewing public has tuned in to one or more showings in the 24-hour TNT Christmas Eve/Day marathon of “A Christmas Story.”
It is my favorite, never-miss holiday show.
Being a believer in the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” theory, I was in no hurry to see “A Christmas Story, The Musical,” a production which premiered in 2009 and toured several major cities before landing on Broadway in 2012.
The musical itself was an outgrowth of the 2000 play based on the 1983 movie. How good, I wondered, could yet a third incarnation be and how have they transferred a film filled with so many memorable moments to the admittedly limited theatrical stage?
If this is taking a long time to get to the point, it is to underscore my initial reluctance to check out “A Christmas Story, The Musical” which opened Friday evening at the Warsaw’s Wagon Wheel Theatre.
Five minutes into the opening number, I was sold. At the end of the less-than-two-hour production, I was wishing it would begin again.
Under the direction of artistic director/choreographer Scott Michaels, the outstanding cast delivers an evening that brings smiles, laughs and well-deserved cheers throughout. And everything I love about the film is there — and frequently better!
As always, the adult performers are excellent, with WW favorites Matthew Janisse as The Old Man and Kira Lace Hawkins as the understanding Mother. Janisse’s exultation at winning “A Major Award” is frantically hilarious while Hawkins’ description of “What A Mother Does” strikes a solid chord of recognition.
As Jean Shepherd, Hoosier author of the tale and show narrator, Kenneth D’Elia is properly in-and-outside the action as required, and Ellen Jenders as Ralphie’s teacher, Miss Shields, gives a whole new meaning to “You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out.”
In this production, however, it is the younger generation that is absolutely amazing!
In the hands of talented Parker Irwin (6th grade), Ralphie Parker is loveably determined. Bespectacled eyes fixed firmly on the prize (“Red Ryder Carbine Action BB Gun”), Ralphie dreams of heroic scenarios (“Ralphie To The Rescue”) and methods of achieving his goal (“Up On Santa’s Lap”).
Irwin is not only a strong singer but delivers a solid character, never missing a lyric or a line, honestly portraying all Ralphie’s ups and downs in pursuit of his dream gift.
Beside him is Alek Fehlmann (5th grade) as brother Randy, struggling with mealtime and his restricting winter garb. Their friends Flick (Callen Hoskins, 5th grade) and Schwartz (Caleb Mouat, 6th grade) are as true blue — and as self-protective — as kids that age can be. Nicholas Lowman and Jackson Moeller (both 6th grade) as school bully Scot Farkus and his toady, Grover Dill, respectively, recall everyone’s elementary school nightmares.
In addition to these young performers, this “Story” boasts seven more singers/dancers ranging from 3rd to 6th graders. From the busy opening to the grand finale, they are a major part of the production numbers, and “A Christmas Story” has many! Throughout they sing, dance and inhabit many characters with a confidence many adult actors would envy. All, according to Michaels, are participants in the theater’s Wagon Wheel Jr. program, and it shows!
The extremely mobile set designed by Michael Higgins requires large set pieces to come and go frequently and as swiftly and silently as possible. To the credit of the movers and shakers, it is never a distraction.
As always, the excellent orchestra led by musical director Thomas Stirling does well with a score that is unfamiliar but thoroughly enjoyable. Stephen B. Hollenbeck’s costumes, circa the 1940s, recreate the colors and shapes of the gentler time recalled by this holiday memory.
If you are looking for one holiday show for this year, I definitely put this production of “A Christmas Story, The Musical” at the top of the list. A word to the wise: Several of the public performances already are sold out.
“A CHRISTMAS STORY, THE MUSICAL” plays weekends through Dec. 21 in the Wagon Wheel Theatre, 2515 E. Center Street, Warsaw. For performance times and reservations, call (574) 267-8041 or visit www.wagonwheeltheatre.org